Salt Island, Good Harbor Beach and Brier Neck are naturally connected. The five acre Salt Island is about 1000 feet from Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts. A sandbar links the island and beach at low tide. I’ve culled a few milestones in its history. Scroll down to 2017 to find the links for the Cape Ann Beacon and today’s Boston Globe.
SALT ISLAND TIMELINE BITS
History of the Town of Gloucester: Cape Ann, John Jame Babson’s published history includes a shipwreck of the vessel, Industry, at Little Good Harbor Beach near Salt Island in 1796
Joseph Parsons’ family operated a lobster business from Salt Island
silent movies were filmed on location
1919 Fox Film Co Bride Number 13
Parts of the Fox Film Corporation movie, Bride Number 13, were shot on location at Good Harbor Beach and Salt Island. The 15 part serial silent film –“the most costly pictures ever made…would consume expenditures of at least one million dollars.” It was conceived and written by Edward Sedgwick, directed by Richard Stanton aka “Salt Island’s Mighty Emperor”, and starred Marguerite Clayton, Jack O’Brien, and Ed Rossman. The script was inspired by Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
Here are a few fun excerpts from 1919 correspondence published in the book, “My father, a silent films pioneer,” by George E. Mcavoy:
“Again the picturesque Gloucester shores have been sought by a motion picture corporation for scenery and the noted Fox Film Company of New York, with its prominent director, Richard Stanton, has arrived at Hotel Harbor View, East Gloucester, to start immediately on the work of filming “Bride Number 13” at Salt Island off Brier Neck.
“It was decided that Salt Island in Gloucester, Mass., would be the setting of the silent film thriller, “Bride Number 13.” This island was an island at high tide and part of the mainland at low tide. Fox film Co. was building a wooden castle on the island, which was about one hundred feet high and hosted the actions of this silent film…”
“(This was five days before the real tornado blew the wooden castle out to sea.)”
Oct 24, 1919“Dear Mother: I left Mary and the babies in Gloucester. I am on my way through New Hampshire and Maine for a lumber camp location. I expect to be back in Gloucester Monday night…
the time for the blowing up of the castle on Salt Island and the rescue of the brides from the pirate band is rapidly approaching…
Billy Carr of Gloucester, Chief Gunner’s Mate on the Navy submarine R-1 that was assigned to the picture, was to play the hero who rescues one of the brides, slashes through the nest of cutthroats, leaps into the basket with her and off. It was now November 10th. A throng of 3,000 was at Good Harbor and all over Brier Neck to watch…On the fourth day Bill Carr was called away on duty and his place was taken by Tom Corbiey…”
“Mr. Sedgwick has achieved something heretofore unknown in moving picture production. He conceived the idea of the story, witnessed and helped direct the scenes, acted in them, had a hand in the grinding of the film, and in fact had a part in every process of the film production…”
“While all bid good-bye to Gloucester last night, there was a general expression of a desire to return and several of the company said that they intended to return here next summer for the vacation period if not in picture work.”
“The explosion was a heavy one and its shock was felt in all parts of the city. It shook the windows of houses on Mt. Vernon Street and vicinity, also at East Gloucester and as far as Rockport. It occurred at 4:20 o’clock and people who felt the shock readily attributed it to the blow-up of Salt Island.”
photo caption: Bride 13 star Marguerite Clayton and kids on vacation during filming of Bride 13. Background shows the stately castle film set on Salt Island
1923 The Silent Command
Then and now: filmmakers love Gloucester.
Fox Film Corporation returned to film the patriotic silent era Navy spy film, THE SILENT COMMAND on Good Harbor Beach, again on the Briar/Brier neck side.
1923 was a busy year for Gloucester, MA. In addition to the municipality managing the bustling tercentenary, Gloucester welcomed another major Fox movie production to shoot on location at Good Harbor Beach. The film was made in cooperation with the Navy. It was directed by J Gordon Edwards, and starred Edmund Lowe and Bela Lugosi in his first American film. It’s essentially a spy thriller with a honeypot formula: foreign power attempts to secure plans to the Panama Canal and blow it up. The villains are thwarted by the US Navy. The production required assistance from the city’s fire department and city electrician. The film crew stayed in Gloucester at the Harbor View Hotel and the Savoy. Local people were cast and spectators lined the beach to watch the thrilling production.
I love this excerpt from the Gloucester Daily Times describing the staged wreck and tremendous waves washing the crew (stuntmen and Gloucester locals) overboard:
“A crowd of several hundred thronged the (Good Harbor) beach for the picture taking and enjoyed the proceedings, which were interesting, and at times thrilling…The Good Harbor beach setting is a clever contrivance, and constructed to produce a natural rocking motion of a steamer in a heavy sea. The rocking is produced by four winches operated by a crew of 10 men…Storm scenes were filmed yesterday afternoon with local actors, Stuart Cooney, son of Marion J. Cooney, taking the part of the hero and making a thrilling climb into the rigging to the crow’s nest during the height of the storm. Fred Kolstee, a rigger, commanded the crew of the steamer. The crew were (locals) Alfred Marshall, Tony Amero, Tom Bess, Peter Rice, James Francis, James Whittle and William Byers. Rain was produced from lines of hose, and a most realistic effect was produced by two aeroplanes, the wind from the speeding propellors driving the water about, and rushing through the rattlings and rigging with all the vengeance of a real gale at sea. Three times the big tank of water was released and the thousands of gallons broke over the deck in a most thrilling manner. There was some concern among the movie men before the water was released that some of the men might get buffeted about and get hurt, and they were cautioned to hold on tight.
However, it was a mere trifle for Gloucestermen, veterans of many a gale on the banks.
It was best expressed by Alfred Marshall when he stepped toward the ladder to leave the craft after the picture taking was done. Alfred was quite vexed. “Blankety, blankety, blank___, is this the best you can do? Blank, I’ve bailed bigger seas than that out of a dory. And he sung it right out so all could hear, too.”
Stuart Cooney ensured that the movie was a success from a technical perspective and “purchased the outfit and (took) it over” after the filming finished. He was a Gloucester pioneer in the film industry that’s still going strong. Film Cape Ann facilitates bringing local productions here, like the award winning Manchester by the Sea. The Wikipedia page doesn’t have any mention of Gloucester, but it helped me with an illustration for The Silent Command lobby poster.
See for yourself; here’s a link to the complete movie. A few of the Gloucester scenes (not all) 1:03:44, 1:08:54, 1:09:54 (some coast), 1:10:21, 1:10:52 (dory lowered from navy ship), 1:11:12 (beach island)
AFI for TCM brief synopsis: “This is one of those ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean’ pictures. Full of the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ patriotic to the nth degree with the navy floating all over the screen. A real hero, a vamp, and a flock of thrills.” (from Var review.) Foreign agents, determined to destroy the United States Navy’s Atlantic Fleet and the Panama Canal, after an unsuccessful attempt to obtain from Capt. Richard Decatur information regarding mine positions in the Canal Zone, hire adventuress Peg Williams to vamp Captain Decatur, thereby putting him at their mercy. Decatur, advised by the Chief of Naval Intelligence, plays along with the spies to gain their confidence. He leaves his wife and is dismissed from the Navy as a result of his association with Miss Williams. Finally, he goes to Panama, thwarts the saboteurs, saves the fleet and the canal, and gains honorable reinstatement and the gratitude of his country for his heroism.”
Guy Parsons used one of the old family fishing shacks as a summer place
By now the fishing shacks were no longer visible
Parson family sold Salt Island
James Kimball purchased Salt Island for $2000
Yankee Magazine article about Bride Number 13 Lights! Camera! Disaster! by Joseph E. Garland
Gloucester Daily Times article mentions that James Kimball “has no plans for the island, although in the past he has thought of building a summer home on the island. When I was young my family spent their summers on Brier Neck…So when the island became available I jumped at the chance.”
One of the designated “Special places in Gloucester”
“Special places in Gloucester” appendix list for the MA Heritage Landscape Inventory Program, MA Dept of Conservation and Recreation Essex National Heritage
September 7, 2011
GMG abou the Filming of Bride 13 on Salt Island by Fred Bodin
“Where is this film? I’d love to know. All sources indicate that Bride 13 was either lost or destroyed, as happened with many silent films. The reference used for this post was the May 1972 Yankee Magazine article, Lights! Camera! Disaster!, authored by the late Joseph E. Garland of Gloucester.”
and September 9, 2011 GMG Filming of Bride 13 on Salt Island Fred Buck Cape Ann Museum adds photos from the location filming
Salt Island listed for sale $300,000 plus beach parking passes for the family
Salt Island listed For Sale $750,000
September 2017 Cape Ann Beacon
2017 BOSTON GLOBE
“If somebody buys it and builds, it’s because these guys didn’t step up to the plate and protect it the way my father did when I was a little girl, ” said Maslow, who pointed out that she and her siblings are not rich people with big summer houses. “I can’t help it if someone buys it and paints it purple and puts pigs on it.” – Karen Maslow
“…this island has been available for public use informally for generations thanks to the goodwill of that family. That point should not be lost.” — Chris LaPointe, Essex County Greenbelt